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Publishing in the Time of Covid-19: Dept. of English students release Subject to Change: An Anthology of Iowa High School Writing

May 06, 2020
Subject to Change, an anthology of Iowa high school student writing

University of Iowa undergraduates in the Department of English’s Publishing II course have done it again! This spring—despite the challenges of distance learning and the anxieties fed by a global pandemic—the students enrolled in CNW:2992 have curated edited, designed, and published a brand new book, Subject to Change: An Anthology of Iowa High School Writing.

Subject to Change is the second anthology in the annual series supported by the Department of English’s literary publishing track, a year-long laboratory designed to give undergraduate students both a taste of the publishing world and a hands-on editorial experience. 

Graduate teaching instructors Bryn Lovitt and Julia Conrad, both nonfiction writers who will be graduating from The Nonfiction Writing Program this spring, led their Publishing II students through the editorial process. Many high schools from around the state of Iowa participated, with high school students submitting dozens of essays, stories, and poems for consideration.

Editorial teams in two separate sections of the Publishing II course collaborated to select writing for the book. What was their process? “Our students read through every submission carefully and then began conceptualizing creative ways to combine them into different themes throughout the book,” Lovitt said. “The experience of curation helped the students develop the necessary confidence to follow-through with such a huge undertaking like this.”

Conrad added, “Throughout this process there has been a lot of really moving volunteerism, with students taking on multiple roles, helping edit each other’s intros and ironing out logistical wrinkles. . . They worked on every aspect of publishing this book, including publicity, designing covers, selecting fonts, writing bios, the back-matter—to name just a few things.”

Undergraduate Stella Tarlin, one of two managing editors for her class’s section, agreed. “What surprised me most was how smoothly everything came together,” she said. “Despite running half of the semester online, I never felt like our section hit any major roadblocks. We were a great, efficient team.” 

And how did the high school students approach their writing?

“Whether writing about first love, family, mental illness, or witches, these authors are all inspiringly fearless,” Conrad said. “They imagine fully-formed alternative worlds, trust readers with their deepest memories and feelings, and speak their minds boldly in a way that makes you immediately want to do the same.”

Lovitt also taught the Publishing II course in spring 2019, when undergraduates released Past Notes, the inaugural anthology in the series. What surprised Lovitt most about the experience this year?

“I’m always surprised by how passionately the publishing students take to the anthology project,” she said. “They really see it as a way to lift up the voices of young people in an empowering way, and take that responsibility very seriously. A big difference between this year’s anthology and the last is that this was almost entirely put together remotely during the pandemic, which required a ton of moving parts and extra class time. The students absolutely excelled and made Subject to Change entirely their own.”

Conrad’s class also found ways to navigate the new online world creatively. She said, “It was a challenge to find a workflow as our classes scattered across the country. We all missed the palpable fun and passion of brainstorming in the classroom and building quickly on each other’s ideas. Funnily enough, though, this experience was a great crash course for students in how the publishing industry actually works: much of it is conducted via email (and now Zoom), with numerous moving parts and schedules to consider. In that respect, I'd say that this semester’s Pub 2 students are maybe more prepared than most to work in the field.”

Conrad, Lovitt, and the anthology editors celebrate the release of Subject to Change with a virtual launch on Thursday, May 14. The celebration, originally planned for Prairie Lights Books, will now take place online and will feature local high school writers reading their published works along with the UI’s Publishing students talking about their editorial choices. This event is open to the public.

What makes this anthology particularly important to the Iowa community right now?

“The students decided to focus one of the book’s sections around the theme of storms,” Conrad explained, “noting that Iowans are no strangers to difficult weather. I love that metaphor in the context of the current pandemic: I think Iowans in particular know how to rise to the occasion of immense external difficulty. . . [Right now] many of us are mourning the loss of graduation ceremonies, but I see the fact that we can publish a really beautiful and thoughtful anthology during a global emergency as an alternative achievement that we can look back on really proudly, and speaks to a future where brilliant things will continue to happen even during extremely trying times.”  

Though Lovitt and Conrad are both graduating with their MFAs this month, future graduate students from The Nonfiction Writing Program will lead publishing students through this life-changing publishing experience in future spring semesters.

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Join the Subject to Change launch event:

May 14, 2020 07:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting: https://uiowa.zoom.us/j/92429725114

Meeting ID: 924 2972 5114